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by Jay Snyder

The rain hadn’t let up for three days as we moved through the open valleys in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. Any hope of finding somewhere dry to stop for the day had begun to fade from everyone’s mind. I was just about to call a halt when the decision was made for me.

My RTO stopped and over his shoulder passed me the radio handset. I heard the words “Line Smash 26, this is Line Smash 6, over.”

I responded “6 this is 26, over.”

The disembodied voice of my Commanding Officer came back “26, this is 6, time to circle up…chopper is inbound to your position with the feed bag, over.”

“6, 26 roger, wilco, over” I answered, then heard “26, 6, ETA 10 minutes, be prepared to mark your position with purple smoke, out.”

This meant several things: first, time to stop for the night; second, we had to set up defensive positions and wait for the Huey which was delivering C-rations and, with any luck, the Holy Grail: mail!

I called to my platoon sergeant “Shep, get ‘em set for the night. I’ll handle the drawing.” The response came quickly, “OK, but you’ll have all the fun.”

Sergeant Shepherd would set the men in position around the CP while my RTO, medic and I would get ready for the ritual we called “Drawing the C’s.”

If everything went according to plan, when we heard from the inbound chopper, I’d pop smoke to mark an open area, the Huey would hover for a minute or two, kick out a few cases of C’s and if we were living right, an orange mail bag. The 3 of us would retrieve the C rat cases, open them and reshuffle the small, tightly packed boxes that were inside each case.

The men had gotten smart over the previous few months. They knew exactly where the hated Ham & Lima Beans as well as where the real treats like peaches or pound cake could be found, so to be fair we had to reshuffle.

“Ben,” I said to my RTO, “you mix the boxes,” and “you, Doc, handle the cigarette trades.” Each individual C Ration box had a small pack of 4 cigarettes, either Marlboro, Winston, Salem, Camels, Lucky Strike or Pall Malls. The filtered brands were the most sought after so we mixed those up too, which led to a frenzy of trading. “C’mon, LT, you know I don’t smoke” answered Doc.

“That’s why I picked you, dummy,” I said just as the call came from the inbound chopper.

This time we were lucky, the C’s landed right where we wanted them.  The mailbag we were hoping for followed the boxes to the ground; no VC shot at the helpless Huey and, even better, there was no attack that night.

The moon was almost full, and after things got quiet we actually got to enjoy our manna from the skies: C’s and mail, our Holy Grail.

Jay Snyder was an infantry platoon leader in the 1st Cavalry Division in Vietnam from 1965-1966 and later served as the Public Relations Officer for the Army’s Golden Knights parachute team. Following a 25 year career in the Pennsylvania state government, he is now a professional tennis referee and sport management consultant.

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